South Sudanese villages cast their votes for various community needs. Photo: UMCOR South Sudan
UMCOR supports South Sudan’s grassroots efforts for community involvement of local government investment activities
By Shahzad Iqbal*
July 28, 2016—When the villagers of Gok Machar, South Sudan, voted to make education the top priority they wanted their local government to address, it brought 13-year-old Alou Garang a giant step closer to realizing a dream. Garang, who participated in the voting, has never set foot inside a classroom.
“I am excited that school construction was voted the greatest priority in my village at this time,” she said. “If the school is built, I will enroll to start my education. I am very happy today that I have started a journey toward realizing my dream to become a teacher by participating in this process.”
The voting she referred to is part of the Local Governance and Service Delivery Project (Logoseed), funded by the South Sudanese Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning in collaboration with the World Bank and implemented by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) in partnership with the Ministry of Local Government.
Through its country office in South Sudan, UMCOR is implementing this project in the counties of Aweil East and Aweil North in the Northern Bahr el Ghazal Region, near the Sudanese border. It is reaching out to nearly 1,000 villages administered by 117 bomas, or village governments.
|Community members gather to express their needs. Photo: UMCOR South Sudan
South Sudan, which was formed from Sudan in July 2011 after decades of conflict, is the world’s youngest nation. Since independence, the new country has been plagued by internal conflicts, especially over the past three years, presenting a challenge to South Sudan’s nation-building efforts.
UMCOR is contributing to those efforts through the Logoseed project, working at the grassroots level to encourage villagers from diverse ethnic groups to get involved in the planning, implementation, and oversight of local government investment activities, such as the school now being planned for Gok Machar.
Young Alou Garang accepted the challenge with insight and wisdom. “After voting for the school as my priority, some people tried to convince me to join their lines to vote again, for their priorities,” she said. “But I declined because that would be dishonest of me and could also lead to the defeat of my priority.”
Community participation, community ownership
|Community members map out their resources. Photo: UMCOR South Sudan
Through a community consultative process, villages in each boma participate in identifying their needs and prioritizing which ones should be included in annual county plans. They also participate in monitoring the progress of the projects they select and in guaranteeing local government accountability.
To ensure that villagers comprehend their roles and their participation in the decision-making process and the activities associated with it, all project meetings are conducted in local languages, mainly Dinka, Luo, and basic Arabic.
So far, in 2016, UMCOR has worked with local communities to create 64 Boma Development Committees (BDC) and six Payam Development Committees (PDC). (The payam is another tier of local government with powers delegated by the County Executive Council.)
These committees are composed of volunteers and are intended to foster community ownership and build sustainability. They are supported by Boma Resource Persons, who are selected by the communities to be a bridge connecting communities, UMCOR, and local government officials.
Building the new nation from the ground up
|People work in groups to prioritize their needs and be part of the country’s development plan. UMCOR South Sudan
For many young people and women, as they lined up behind their priorities, it was the first time in their lives that they had ever been invited to express their opinions on village development needs. With women taking part in the BDCs, local tribal leaders also got their first glimpse of village women in a decisive role.
When communities take ownership of their selected projects, it also takes a burden from the shoulders of local tribal leaders — traditional intermediaries between villagers and government — and fosters direct participation in the progress of the community.
One leader, Amet Mabior, said the Logoseed project had brought “a new dawn” to his community. He said he was happy because the communities feel part of the local decision-making process “and take these initiatives as their own.”
Mabior said he had his own ideas about what he thought should matter most to his village. “If my priority is selected, that will be good, but if the community members have other priorities and end up having theirs selected, I will support them,” he said.
Building a new country requires faith in the possibility of positive change, even in the midst of conflict and instability. Through the Logoseed project, UMCOR is seeking to offer a ray of hope — and a sense of community ownership — to the people of South Sudan.
You can support the work of UMCOR in South Sudan and its field offices in four additional countries by contributing to UMCOR Sustainable Recovery and Development, Advance #3021951.
*Shahzad Iqbal is UMCOR project coordinator for the Local Governance and Service Delivery Project.